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I wrote this article in 1993, shortly after Shaka Rodney, the son of Walter Rodney, staged a protest in front of the Office of the President in December 1993 to demand a Commission of Inquiry into his father’s death. He was told by Mrs. Jagan to go home and Dr. Jagan asked—what would a COI do?
Those who believed that with the fall of the PNC dictatorship in Guyana there was no longer a need for agitation and struggle must now think again. The PPP’s attitude towards the Walter Rodney inquiry and the consequent protest action by Rodney’s son, Shaka, demonstrates that although the dictatorship is gone, the old and decadent political culture is very much intact. The politics of race, clientelism, double dealing and opportunism are still the strong pillars of this culture. Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean will not advance to the twenty-first century in a dignified manner if these evils are not rooted out and replaced by a more decent and humane culture. By Shaka Rodney defiantly using his body to demand justice for his father, he simultaneously drew attention to this spiritual and political crisis in the region. It is precisely this rotten state of affairs that Rodney fought against during his lifetime.
Walter Rodney lives. When important and influential persons in Guyana – some of whom fought for the return of democracy – did not lift their voices in support of Shaka’s cause, Walter Rodney lives. When no government in the region could muster the courage to demand an inquiry, Walter Rodney lives. When some Christian voices remained silent even as they celebrate the birth of the indomitable fighter for justice, Jesus Christ, Walter Rodney lives. And when academics and students who have benefitted immensely from Rodney’s pioneer scholarship did not speak up, Walter Rodney lives. Yes, Walter Rodney lives because men and women of the Caribbean still lack the courage to openly stand on the side of justice.
Why, after the long battle to bring down the dictatorship in Guyana, must the son of the movement’s most shining example put his life at risk before the “democratic” government agrees to mount an inquiry? The answer lies in the nature of the culture that has historically shaped, nurtured and informed the politics of Guyana and the Caribbean. Clive Thomas makes the point that the state in the region has always been authoritarian. Burnham and the PNC raised the authoritarian state to scandalous proportions. Dr. Jagan’s problem is that he wants to deepen democracy within this authoritarian framework and culture. It is not possible. Having come out of the old culture, the PPP must understandably show symptoms of the sickness. But its elevation to the head of the reconstruction/renewal movement obligates that party to rise to the occasion and break out of the vice. Failure to do so would plunge Guyana back into the darkest days. Dr. Jagan and his team must do the right thing: dismantle the structures and banish habits which feed the nasty political culture or be consumed by them.
Some may ask whether the PPP is capable of carrying out this task. Perhaps it is not. However, what is certain is the party can be made to respond to demands. Hence, there is the need for a Rodneyite upsurge in Guyana. Rodney’s party, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), has already indicated that it wants a new constitution as a start. A mass movement must be built around this issue if the PPP resists. After all, even the PNC which framed the constitution has called for its modification. Those who support the PPP or defend its right to rule Guyana must hang their heads in shame when the PNC justifiably accuses the government of bad governance. Walter Rodney and the other martyrs, along with countless others who fought for the return of democracy, did not fight for the PNC to return as the standard bearer of justice. While I support Kwayana’s contention that the PNC that agrees to free and fair election is a new PNC, I am sure he will agree that the process does not stop there. The PNC must vividly demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is truly reformed rather than being made to look good by unimaginative PPP governance.
All Guyanese, therefore, owe Shaka Rodney an enormous gratitude. He has jolted us back to our senses. The time for kissing the new regime is over and the urgent task of renewal must begin. Let your voices be heard. Remind the PPP ministers when they come to town what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain hero whose life we celebrate this week, told the US establishment thirty years ago: BE TRUE TO WHAT YOU PUT ON PAPER. The PPP must honor its promises and its manifesto.